“During the pandemic, everyone gravitated to eating at home, learning how to cook and the idea of eating healthy and knowing exactly what was going into their body. We think those trends will continue,” Michael Okoroafor, VP of global sustainability & packaging innovation at McCormick & Co., told FoodNavigator-USA.
“There are several things that are driving that. One is this idea of choice and consumers really thinking about what they want to eat and when they want to eat,” and choosing exactly the ingredients or dishes that meet those needs, he explained.
In addition, as the pandemic progressed and consumers learned more about the connection between diet and their health they also gravitated to spices that could reduce or replace sugar, salt and fat to create flavorful meals that were better for them – something that is easier to control at home than in restaurants where there is less nutrition transparency, Okoroafor said.
Plus, he added, after 15 months of practicing in their kitchens during the pandemic, consumers are more comfortable cooking and experimenting with different flavors, spices and cuisines, making them less reliant on restaurants for those flavors and experiences.
Many consumers also are proud of what they have learned and are eager to share and further develop their skills with each other by creating their own cooking shows on Tik Tok or posting recipes and pictures on social media.
To tap into consumers digital engagement around cooking and further empower them to experiment in the kitchen, McCormick is working with its own culinary experts to share new recipes and cooking tips online.
“One of the things we’re doing with our cooking shows and recipes is we are enabling people to utilize their leftovers to create new meals with our recipes, or they can communicate online with our expert culinary specialists about how to use leftovers so they don’t have to throw them away,” Okoroafor said.
Influencers, celebrities open the door for McCormick to new consumer groups
He noted McCormick also is creating fresh digital content and even new products with influencers who can then promote the brand to their followers.
For example, he said, McCormick teamed with TikTok superstar and vegan home cook Tabitha Brown to create the McCormick Sunshine All Purpose Seasoning, which is a salt-free, Caribbean-influenced blend of ginger, thyme, turmeric, allspice and fruit powders.
“This young lady really loves food – healthy food. And she visited our development center and worked with our R&D team and culinary scientists to prepare some good stuff,” Okoroafor said.
The limited-edition blend launched July 8 and was promoted across Brown’s feeds, which including nearly 5 million followers. Brown also will promote other McCormick spices, herbs, seasonings and condiments in her cooking content as McCormick’s new spokeswoman.
Earlier this summer, McCormick also tapped actor Mark Consuelos to host a month-long #GirlDadGrillDad social media challenge in partnership with Feeding America, which involved the company’s Grill Mates brand highlighting father figures passing down grilling traditions to young women in their lives. The campaign also included an exclusive recipe that features some of Consuelos’ favorite ingredients and spices.
In the spring, McCormick partnered with celebrity chef Carla Hall and culinary expert John Kanell to feature carrots in a variety of unexpected recipes that also used McCormick spices.
“We are using these influencers to really drive trends that are going to last and who will showcase how, at the end of the day, McCormick stands for good, healthy eating habits” and offers flavorful, convenient solutions, Okoroafor said.
Consumers’ flavor preferences become more sophisticated
Beyond teaming with influencers who appeal to a broad range of consumers, McCormick continues to expand its portfolio and highlight products, spices and flavors that reflect the increasing sophistication of home cooks, Okoroafor said.
For example, he said, “a major trend that was growing before the pandemic was this idea of heat and making meals spicier,” but as consumers played with spice and heat at home during the past 15 months they developed an appreciation not just for potentially tongue-numbing heat – but also the subtle flavors associated with spice.
“It is not just about one thing being super-hot without flavor. That is changing, and so is our portfolio. For example, we have Frank’s Red Hot, which has tremendous flavor, and now we also have Cholula, which is an authentic Mexican hot sauce. You might think that these would cannibalize each other, but no. Guess what is happening? Consumers are discovering there is a spectrum when it comes to heat,” and they are seeking different products for different dishes, he said.
As consumers increasingly appreciate the subtle differences of spice combinations, they also are looking to create more “destiny food,” or dishes that pull on traditions from different cultures around the world, Okoroafor said.
According to McCormick’s most recent Flavor Forecast released in April, this desire for “destiny food” is playing out with consumers embracing ‘humble nosh,’ or the comfort foods and flavors of other cultures. Key flavors in this trend include the Indian spice blend chaat masala, the Malaysian jam pandan kaya and crisped chilies.
Food as medicine
A deeper understanding of food as medicine cultivated during the pandemic also will help keep home cooks in their kitchens even as some regions reopen and increased mobility becomes an option, predicts Okoroafor.
“The idea of food as medicine is coming back,” and is opening the door for consumers to explore how other cultures traditionally used herbs and medicine to support health, he said.
“There are several cultures, including mine, where herbs and spices are used as medicine. I can tell you, when I was growing up, my mom had herbs and spices that could cure everything…. Traditional Chinese Medicine is the same – it is based on herbs, spices and seasonings,” he said, adding that consumer interest in this trend will persist even as the threat of COVID-19 eases in some regions.
According to McCormick’s Flavor Forecast, the reemergence of mindfulness, intention and mind-body balance is opening the door for consumers to use taste to achieve balance – for example, through coriander, lemon, sea salt, cumin, turmeric and ginger.
McCormick added an “extra dash of fun” to this trend by partnering with the astrology and mystical services app Sanctuary to guide consumers to their “flavor destiny,” according to the company.
Other emerging flavors that pull on several of these trends, include “underwater, under discovered,” which includes nutrient dense underwater botanicals, such as spirulina, sea grapes and dulse, according to the company.